How A Singapore Company & OIL Are Containing The Assam Gas Leak

Experts estimate that it will take over three weeks to contain the crisis.

Published11 Jun 2020, 03:59 PM IST
India
3 min read

On 27 May, oil and natural gas started leaking out uncontrollably from the Baghjan oil field in the Tinsukia district of Assam. After leaking for 14 days, the leak caused an explosion on Tuesday, 9 June, creating an inferno at the site of the field. The oil field belongs to Oil India Limited (OIL) which has now roped in experts from a Singapore-based company called Alert Disaster Control to the plug the leak even as the fire rages on.

Here's how OIL and the Singapore-based company, along with other organisations are working on plugging this massive blowout

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT 'ALERT DISASTER CONTROL'

The company website of 'Alert Disaster Control', says that it is a "global Emergency Response and Integrated Risk Management Solutions Service Company". Of the many emergency responses listed, "Oilwell Firefighting and Blowout Control" is one.

According to a report by The Scroll, a three-member team from the company arrived in Tinsukia on 7 June.

We had started talking to them on the 29th itself. But because of the pandemic situation, it took some time for them to get their visa and flight clearances,” said OIL India spokesperson, Tridiv Hazarika, in the report.

The report also mentions that the team from Alert is using OIL's equipment and not its own.

However, Alert's website mentions that its personnel are equipped with "custom designed oilwell firefighting and blowout control equipment".

An Economic Times report says that the experts are being led by Michael Ernest Allcorn.

A press release from OIL, on 9 June, said the following about Alert's operations:

“The experts from Alert complimented OIL for all the preparatory works carried out so far and mentioned that based on their wide experience of handling over a thousand blowouts in around 135 countries all over the world under different conditions, they are confident of controlling the well at the earliest with necessary support from OIL.”

"They emphasised that safety of the local people in the area and the technical team working at the well site will be their prime concern while carrying out the operations", the release said.

Apart from the team from Alert, a team from ONGC is also working on containing the blowout.

CONTAINMENT PROBLEMS

Since the blowout occurred on 27 June OIL created a "water umbrella" by continuously spraying water over the area in order to prevent a fire.

Reports state that without this, a fire might have erupted earlier. However, on 9 June, possibly to the dry weather and high temperatures, the water umbrella did not work and a fire broke out.

“There is a drilling mobile rig on the top of the blowout site and there are a number of iron pipes hanging over it, so there’s a high possibility that the wind could have caused a speak in those pipes", an OIL official told The Scroll.

According to the report OIL is looking to place a "blowout prevent" weighing around three tonnes on the well. For that purpose, a “hydraulic lander”, capable of dodging hospitals, is being manufactured in the company's workshop in Assam.

However, the fact that this oil rig was an active rig and had a number of equipment in its close vicinity is making the containment operations difficult.

Movement of metal can cause sparks that will create a new fire or exacerbate the existing one.

“There was a huge crane hardly five to ten metres from the well, which meant we could use no machinery – 20-30 of our people pulled it out with their bare hands", an official told The Scroll.

The drilling mast that supports the weight of the well's drilling pipes and controls its movement was also causing problems with containment efforts. However, the fire took it down on Tuesday, helping with the exercise.

Experts estimate that it will take approximately three weeks (or more) to contain a blowout of this proportion.

Approximately 2,000 people have been displaced due to the blowout and the resultant fire. The loss to flora and fauna is still being estimated.

This is the second such blowout in an OIL well in 15 years. Two firemen have lost their lives in the containment and fire-fighting exercise.

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